Right-wing death squads killed at least 177 people in a coastal area of southern Sri Lanka on Thursday in massacres apparently staged in retaliation for an upsurge of activity by Sinhalese separatist radicals, police and residents said.
“Most of them were shot in the head,” one resident said in a telephone interview. “Parts of their skulls are missing.”
Other residents of the fishing and farming district of Hambantota, 115 miles south of Colombo, where the attacks occurred, said the victims were mostly young men. The residents said the men had been abducted in the early hours of the morning, killed and dumped on the road that follows the coastline.
Police officials said they suspect that the death squads, whose members are widely believed to be off-duty soldiers and police officers, staged the mass slayings in retaliation for an upsurge of activity by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), or People’s Liberation Front.
The JVP radicals, in an apparent display of force one month after the death of their founder, Rohana Wijeweera, torched numerous government buildings and facilities and killed about 250 supporters of President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Police reported Thursday that 121 corpses had been found along a 15-mile-long stretch of road between the towns of Hambantota and Tissamaharama.
Residents said 29 bullet-riddled bodies were found around a nearby town named Beliatte, another 15 at Ambalantota, while the 12 other corpses in various different locations.